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What to Listen For in Music by Aaron Copland
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What to Listen For in Music (original 1939; edition 2009)

by Aaron Copland, Leonard Slatkin (Contributor)

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925109,453 (3.84)1 / 26
Member:annbury
Title:What to Listen For in Music
Authors:Aaron Copland
Other authors:Leonard Slatkin (Contributor)
Info:NAL Trade (2009), Paperback, 320 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:*****
Tags:Music

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What to Listen for in Music by Aaron Copland (1939)

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I ended up attending a few concerts in and after I read this and I think it did help my understanding but mostly it was just a welcome relief from daily things.
  amyem58 | Jul 3, 2014 |
This is a classic; if you're serious about classical music, then this is a must read. Warning: in 1935 when this book was written, people were generally more musically literate. If you don't know the difference between the tonic and dominant chords, expect to spend some time with Wikipedia. Copeland's discussion of musical forms is simple and clear. His discussion of modern music is less so and I found unconvincing. Nevertheless, his point that the listener must be active is spot on. ( )
  KirkLowery | Mar 4, 2014 |
According to Copland listening to classical music should not be a casual affair; one needs some knowledge of form certainly, but what is most important is that the listening should be an active experience. Aaron Copland makes this point time and time again:

“No listener can afford to ignore this point, for it is fundamental to a more intelligent approach toward listening……………….. Polyphonic textures implies a listener who can hear separate strands of melody sung by separate voices , instead of hearing only the sound of all the voices as they happen from moment to moment, vertical fashion……No point in this book needs direct musical illustration more than this one."

“Chapter 1 began with the premise that it is essential in learning to listen more intelligently, to hear a great deal of music over and over again and no amount of reading could possibly replace the listening.”

“The key to understanding contemporary music is repeated listenings”

“Take seriously your responsibilities as a listener…………….Music can only be really alive when there are listeners who are really alive. To listen intently, to listen consciously, to listen with ones whole intelligence is the least we can do in the furtherance of an art that is one of the glories of mankind”


Copland sets out to provide the listener with the tools to hear exactly what is going on in a piece of classical music, not in so much detail as to be confusing or exhausting but enough for the non musician to benefit from reading his book. On the whole I think he is pretty successful. After a couple of chapters on how we listen and the creative process Copland gets down to the serious business of introducing some music theory. He tackles the four elements of music; Rhythm, Melody, Harmony and Tone Colour using some actual musical examples, this will obviously be the hardest section of the book for anyone without any knowledge of music theory, but I found that I got through them with a clearer idea of how music works.

There are chapters on musical texture and musical structure and then some really excellent pieces on what Copland calls fundamental forms. These are variation forms, fugal forms, sonata forms and free forms and they basically take the reader through the development of modern classical music, without getting bogged down in technical; details. These are very fine chapters indeed, written clearly and concisely with plenty of examples of works that the reader can go away and listen to.

The book finishes with more excellent chapters on Opera and Film music and then some wonderfully intelligent words on contemporary classical music, exhorting the reader not to give up on the sound that the music makes but to keep listening until the patterns or melodies form themselves more clearly in the mind and then enjoyment may follow. Copland originally wrote the book in 1939 and so contemporary music for him was obviously the first part of the 20th century. The book was revised in 1957 with an authors note for that edition and there is an introduction by William Schuman and an epilogue by Alan Rich.

Copland’s book not only lets us into some of the secrets of how music works, but also why it works that way. His enthusiasm for music is infectious and it does what all good books on music should do “make you want to go and hear some music” , but with Copland's wise words ringing in your ears “listen intelligently” - no dozing off to sleep in those overheated concert halls or while listening to your CD’s at home. This is one of those books that I wish I had read 20 years ago, there is a lot of catching up to do. An excellent introduction to music and a five star read. ( )
1 vote baswood | Feb 5, 2013 |
This is a TERRIFIC book about music for music lovers who want to learn more about music. There is lots and lots written about music history, what composer wrote when and who influenced whom. But there isn't that much that I have found about the music itself which really helps me understand what is going on in a particular piece.

Copland takes the reader through the building blocks of music, starting with what he calls the four elements: rhythm, melody, harmony and tone color, Then he proceeds to musical texture, to musical structure, and then to five fundamental forms: sectional, variational, fugal, sonata, and free. After this, he concludes with brief surveys of opera, film music, and what was then contemporary serious music. Each chapter is followed with a list of suggested pieces of music to listen to.

The book's advanced age has remarkably little impact on its usefulness, except for the fact that the "listening lists" refer to old recordings. The book first appeared in 1939 and was revised in 1957; the Signet edition that I read has a short chapter on music since Copland. Copland was a teacher of music as well as a composer, and it shows -- I would love to take a class for which this was the text.

This book does, however, demand lots of effort, and lots of listening, at least for "I don't know much about music, but I know what I like" types like me. What Copland wants the listener to do is go beyond pure sensuous enjoyment and use his or her brain to follow the music as it unfolds -- to listen, not just hear. Doing this requires listening again and again to pieces he discusses.

Like several other reviewers, I wish very much that some kind person would put out a CD (or set up a website) with the specific passages Copland cites, as well as his broader listening list. Even without this, however, I have learned a great deal from this book. I expect to learn more, since I will be reading again and again as I listen. ( )
1 vote annbury | Dec 4, 2012 |
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» Add other authors (8 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Aaron Coplandprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Rich, AlanForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rich, AlanEpiloguesecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Schuman, WilliamIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Slatkin, LeonardContributorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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To put down as clearly as possible the fundamentals of intelligent music listening is the object of this book.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0451528670, Mass Market Paperback)

"The definitive guide to musical enjoyment" (Forum) with over 1.5 million copies in print.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:33:35 -0400)

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Penguin Australia

Two editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 0451226402, 0451531760

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